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Alan Zisman on the Mac

Apple's OS X Lion Aims to Leverage iPad Technology

- 2011.08.08 - Tip Jar

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Apple has always been good at cutting the cord on older technologies. It has moved Macintosh computers to new families of processors, dropped support for floppy and optical drives, and replaced its classic Mac operating system with OS X.

First released in 2001, OS X has been continually revised; 2009's seventh-generation Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard dropped support for older Macs built using PowerPC processors, but was otherwise - similar to Windows 7 - a modest release optimizing the previous version.

OS X 10.7 Lion, released July 20, is more ambitious, with changes starting with the way it's distributed and installed. It's not available in stores and not sold on disc; instead, it's a download from Apple's Mac App Store.

Priced at $29.99, the 3.5 GB file takes about an hour to download. Especially nice (Microsoft take note!), users with multiple Macs only have to buy it once; it can be downloaded free for installation onto additional systems. Users can also save the installer onto a blank DVD disc or USB flash drive, but do this before running the installer, because once you've upgraded, the install file vanishes. A $69 version on a flash drive is promised for some time in August.

Once again, Lion cuts the cord to older technologies. You'll need a dual-core Intel-powered Mac with at least 2 GB of memory, and Lion lacks support for software written for older PowerPC Macs. (Read this for help checking whether you're using any of these older programs.) I was keeping financial data in an older version of Intuit's Quicken and needed to export my data prior to installing Lion. Afterward would have been too late!

A migration assistant imports settings, data, and applications from another Mac or a backup; Lion's version can also import Outlook email, photos, and other data (but not applications) from a Windows PC.

Lion promises 250 new features. Several give your Mac some of the look and feel of an iPad or iPhone. A Launchpad icon displays icons of your Mac's applications, mimicking the iPad home screen.

Applications can be viewed in full-screen mode, again a la iPad. And laptop users will discover new iPad-like gestures, including a trackpad that scrolls in reverse: moving two fingers downward scrolls up - the opposite of how it's previously worked. (Don't like it? Uncheck what Apple calls Ònatural scrolling".)

As on an iPad or iPhone, text auto-corrects, while holding down a letter like Òe" pops up accented and other variations - finally, an easy way to make those sorts of additions!

However, you can't run iPhone/iPad apps on your Mac.

Other improvements are under the hood. Lion installs a hidden hard drive recovery partition. Along with Apple's Disk Utility for hard drive repairs, it includes a built-in web browser so you can search online for solutions. (Hold down the Òoption" key at boot up for access.)

You can encrypt your entire hard drive and Time Machine backups; previously, you were limited to your documents. When you boot your computer, it will automatically load applications and documents that were running when it was shut down. There's system-wide support for auto-saving documents and for accessing older versions.

AirDrop is perhaps the easiest way to share files with other computers across a local network.

Boot time and performance seem on par with the previous version, despite all the new features.

Many of these new features, including full-screen mode and document auto-saving, require applications that have been rewritten to support them. Apple's applications (mostly) are Lion-friendly; other applications will have to gain support in a future update. And AirDrop works only with recent Macs.

Assuming you're not dependent on old PowerPC-era Mac software, Lion is an affordable and attractive upgrade for Mac users.

First published in Business in Vancouver August 9-15, 2011 issue #1137.

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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